Many years ago, “The Guardian” -- that last fanatical bastion of English left-wing obstinacy & foolishness -- published a unique book review honoring the latest Penguin edition of “The Plague”, the enduring fictional allegory of human suffering & sacrifice, written by French existentialist novelist Albert Camus.

It was particularly surprising that “The Guardian”, of all publications, would publish what was really a revised introduction to the latest English-language edition of “The Plague”, since Camus' unique philosophical & political point of view was always so different from that of most of today's Guardian contributors.

Like many other European intellectual heirs of Heidegger at the end of World War II, Camus philosophically traveled to the very edge of the ontological abyss, and resolutely confronted a black Nietzschean vision of the death of God and the end of all conventional morality (a bleak vision sparked by the horrors of the Nazi era and the complicity of so many "ordinary" citizens in the cruelties of the holocaust).


But unlike such existentialist contemporaries as Jean Paul Sartre, Camus did not cope with the "anxiety", "nausea" and "dread" that accompanied this nihilistic vision by taking refuge in the most popular left-wing "isms" of his day.

As reviewer Tony Judd [who recently passed away] appropriately noted in his “Guardian” op-ed, Camus' point of view in “The Plague” is particularly worth careful study after the events of 9/11.

If nothing else, it demonstrates that if Albert Camus had somehow still been alive on the day of that terrorist nightmare, Camus -- unlike most leftist thinkers of yesterday and today -- would have had no problem making judgments about who was at fault and why.

And it is very unlikely that he would have been tempted to justify (or rationalize) the horrific actions of al-Qaeda by proffering the well-worn slander, so popular on the Continent, that the United States somehow deserved what it got.

Of course, there's no doubt that Camus was definitely a man of the political left. He had been raised in grinding poverty in Algeria. And he was briefly a member of the Communist Party in pre-War Algeria.


But unlike Sartre and his pampered middle-class friends, Camus didn't existentially seek an awareness of "being" by means of a dogmatic ideological mission to redress human misery through the totalitarian Stalinist revolutionary solution (with all the doublethink and violence this ideological undertaking involved).

Instead, Camus -- to use his mode of expression -- "revolted" against the "no" in life by embracing the "yes" in existence.

Camus would not take the easy way out intellectually, by abandoning all notions of morality and ethics in politics … for the sake of the ultimate good (the revolution).
Unlike Sartre and company, he rejected the era's most beckoning diversion from the phenomenological nihilist nightmare -- an intellectual fun ride on the deterministic Marxist roller coaster of historical inevitability -- an intellectual adventure during which one immersed oneself in the extremes of a historical dialectic (used to justify the invasion of Hungary & Czechslovakia, for example)… and an Orwellian “doublespeak” that rationalized that the end (the revolution) justified ANY means (murder, show trials & the extermination of all who get in the way).

As existentialists, intellectual contemporaries such as Sartre may well have attempted to confront the angst-inducing vision of the godless, nihilistic hellhole that represented "existence" for free thinkers in post-Nazi Europe.

However, Sartre and his followers flinched. They turned away from this depressing nightmare, and found an escape from free will in the siren call of the dialectical "historical" struggle and all the comforting certainties (and rigidities) that the Stalinist strain of Communism offered them at the time.

And by throwing themselves into the pursuit of the revolutionary end, they & their myriad compatriots in the “class struggle” were freed to pursue any means.

From their political perspective, they (and political idols like Stalin) were NOT restrained by the limits of everyday morality from pursuing the extremes of human cruelty that the revolutionary mission might demand.

In the class struggle, they could find "meaning" and "aliveness" in being. They could experience a Nietzschean "vitality" that only intellectual Ubermensches of revolutionary culture like themselves could truly appreciate. And through the struggle for revolution, they could transcend the empty nothingness of everyday bourgeois existence that so upset them.


Camus too came face to face with the same nihilistic vision that bedeviled most European freethinkers in the aftermath of World War II -- the dark, rootless path of constant suffering that was life, which ended only in the fear & trembling that attended godless death.

But -- to use his language -- he "revolted" against this nihilistic dead end, the absurdity of existence that comprises the vale of tears of human life.

Instead of succumbing to the darkness of this nihilistic vision, by affirming the "no" in life, he turned to what he considered to be the "yes" in life -- the a-priori light of human existence: OTHERS.

He said "yes" to the intrinsic sense of solidarity he experienced toward his fellow humans (no matter how imperfect they were), and otherwise strove to accept the unalterable "limitations" of human existence.

Rebellion for Camus was not the inhumane "ends-justifies-the-means" action demanded by the historical struggle for the perfect revolutionary social order -- with all the murderous extremes that such a struggle inevitably encompasses.

Camus' notion of rebellion resisted the nihilistic call, by affirming the relatedness of self to others and to nature.

One strove to accept the limitations of human existence, all the while savoring every joy in life ... while still fighting against every private or civic action that brought unjust suffering to others.

For Camus, the true "rebel" embraced human solidarity, as both means and ends, in a continuing "revolt" against the nihilistic shadow. The rebel, according to Camus, could feel most alive by transcending the nothingness of being and finding meaning in relatedness to his or her fellows.


And within Camus' humanistic world view, even the unceasing dialectical march of revolutionary history had to come to a halt when confronted by the exigencies of an even more basic a-priori truth of existence -- each human's essential solidarity with and obligation to the other.

Of course, after wading through this somewhat arcane discussion, you're probably thinking by now: "So what? It's 2014. Why bother ourselves with outdated writings from more than 50 years ago? Why refight the philosophical & political battles of post-War Europe now?"

The answer is twofold:

First of all, after a careful reading of Camus, it's not difficult to come to the conclusion that despite his life-long leftist political leanings, he was a philosophical conservative by nature.

And secondly, he still remains one of the best intellectual antidotes for budding college-age intellects searching for "meaning" amidst the empty, sterile conformity that comprises life in contemporary capitalist society (in their minds anyway).

Camus is a cautionary literary & philosophical footnote to the post-Heidegger European intellectual quest which has bequeathed to us the intellectual poison of Foucault & Jacques Derrida, and the soul-destroying theorems of deconstruction (created by an empty-headed leftist university elite).

Camus’ writings are an energizing antidote to the paralyzing non-judgmentalism of post-modernist political thought that produced the strange ambivalence (if not satisfaction) of North American intellectuals regarding the events of 9/11 – namely that “imperialist” America got what it deserved.


As a man of political action, Albert Camus may have adopted the language and world view of European leftist politics as he battled against the social & political injustices of the 1940's and 1950's.

But perhaps because his entire identity was so rooted in the practical, real-world sensibility of the working-class surroundings of his Algerian childhood, and his strong identification with the eternal rhythms of nature that dominated life in the seaside surroundings of his birthplace, Camus could not shake an intrinsic “conservatism” in his perception of the dynamics of change in human life.

Consequently, in quasi-philosophical treatises like “The Rebel”, he repeatedly cautioned even the most well-meaning social & political revolutionaries of the need to keep in mind the "limitations" of human existence -- the innate and enduring injustices of life and nature which mere human interventions can never alter (after all, life's greatest injustice may well be that we inevitably die).

Like some wise old conservative, even the youthful Camus seemed to have an instinctive SKEPTICISM about the PERFECTABILITY of man or his social institutions -- the cardinal sin of today's contemporary liberal "dogooders", trying to remake society according to their reality-deprived socio-political fantasies.

And the inevitable outcome is unintended social consequences which inevitably most injure the disadvantaged populations  whom these initiatives are meant to help (for example, Lyndon Johnson's "Great Society" initiative, and Barack Obama's "affordable health-care" system).


And just like post-war conservatives in the U.S. (of whom he did not approve), Camus instinctively recognized the "evil" inherent in the great Stalinist experiment in revolutionary society that was the Soviet Union of the 1930s, '40s and '50's.

Unlike post-War existential “celebrities” like Sartre, Albert Camus was appalled by the Stalinist show trials of the 1930's. He condemned the ruthlessness of the petty commissars and tyrants who flourished in the Communist revolutionary milieu of the 1930's and '40's. And unlike leftist European intellectual contemporaries like Sartre, he strenuously objected to the Soviets' ruthless suppression of the anti-communist Hungarian uprisings of 1956.


Just as important, Camus' literary & philosophical writings offer an alternative intellectual magnet for today's disaffected young intellectuals.

He addresses the sense of alienation & rebellion still experienced by today's idealistic young thinkers in the post-modern age -- those stubborn young minds still trying to forge an "authentic" path amidst the absurdity and banality of what they view as modern living.

Having confronted death in his many bouts with tuberculosis, and during his participation in the French resistance movement, Camus convincingly tackles the question of living authentically within the modern existential void.

And yet unlike Heidegger's post-modernist successors, Camus rejects any escape into the moral relativism of post-structural nihilism.

For in the end, Camus recognizes the existence of good and evil in human life.

And in his writings, as in his life, he tried his best to ally himself with the forces of good (the light), in the fight against the forces of evil (darkness).

His was an intellectual voyage guided by an innate notion of the enduring pull of the other -- by the timeless call for human solidarity against the vicissitudes of existence.

Certainly, Camus would have understood and approved of the heroic sacrifice made by so many New York City firefighters and police on September 11th, 2001.

And As Tony Judd noted in his Guardian review, “The Plague” in particular makes enlightening reading in the aftermath of the dramatic events of 9/11.


Consequently, I suggest you amble over to your nearest bookstore & pick up a paperback copy of Camus' novel “The Plague“ and then his political-philosophical treatise “The Rebel”. Think of them as intellectual comfort food for these confusing times.

Even better, make a gift of “The Plague” (and perhaps Camus' cold tale of alienation, “The Stranger”) to some conflicted young person in college you're acquainted with.

It may well serve as a surprising antidote to the poisonous cant currently being dished out, to this unknowing victim, by his or her post-modernist professors.

Nuff said.


These days, for many reasons, the world sometimes appears almost as bleak as the post-Holocaust years – when you factor in recent revelations about the starving masses of North Korea (while their beloved leader stuffs himself with caviar), as well as the cynical machinations of Vladmir Putin and the Iranian Mullahs on the world stage.

And that is why we must learn the metaphorical lesson bequeathed to us by Albert Camus – to never give in to the dark forces of nihilism and abandon all hope; and while we still try to savor whatever “good” that remains in life, we must fight back against the forces of darkness as best we can.

And finally to remind ourselves of how bad things have gotten around the world lately (and perhaps relieve some pent-up tension)... let's all sing along to the lyrics of Canada's pessimist of pessimists, Leonard Cohen:


Everybody knows that the dice are loaded
Everybody rolls with their fingers crossed
Everybody knows that the war is over
Everybody knows the good guys lost
Everybody knows the fight was fixed
The poor stay poor, the rich get rich
That's how it goes
Everybody knows
Everybody knows that the boat is leaking
Everybody knows that the captain lied
Everybody got this broken feeling
Like their father or their dog just died

Everybody talking to their pockets
Everybody wants a box of chocolates
And a long stem rose
Everybody knows

Everybody knows that you love me baby
Everybody knows that you really do
Everybody knows that you've been faithful
Ah give or take a night or two
Everybody knows you've been discreet
But there were so many people you just had to meet
Without your clothes
And everybody knows

Everybody knows, everybody knows
That's how it goes
Everybody knows

Everybody knows, everybody knows
That's how it goes
Everybody knows

And everybody knows that it's now or never
Everybody knows that it's me or you
And everybody knows that you live forever
Ah when you've done a line or two
Everybody knows the deal is rotten
Old Black Joe's still pickin' cotton
For your ribbons and bows
And everybody knows

And everybody knows that the Plague is coming
Everybody knows that it's moving fast
Everybody knows that the naked man and woman
Are just a shining artifact of the past
Everybody knows the scene is dead
But there's gonna be a meter on your bed
That will disclose
What everybody knows

And everybody knows that you're in trouble
Everybody knows what you've been through
From the bloody cross on top of Calvary
To the beach of Malibu
Everybody knows it's coming apart
Take one last look at this Sacred Heart
Before it blows
And everybody knows

Everybody knows, everybody knows
That's how it goes
Everybody knows

Oh everybody knows, everybody knows
That's how it goes
Everybody knows

Everybody knows

[And to really sing your lungs out -- as a needed catharsis -- please click on the Web link immediately below, or cut & paste it into your Web browser and hit the ENTER key]:


How about taking solace in Leonard Cohen's celebrated "ANTHEM" (of hope):


The birds they sang
at the break of day

Start again
I heard them say
Don't dwell on what
has passed away
or what is yet to be.
Ah the wars they will
be fought again
The holy dove
She will be caught again
bought and sold
and bought again
the dove is never free.Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in.We asked for signs
the signs were sent:
the birth betrayed
the marriage spent
Yeah the widowhood
of every government --
signs for all to see.I can't run no more
with that lawless crowd
while the killers in high places
say their  prayers out loud.
But they've summoned, they've summoned up
a thundercloud
and they're going to hear from me.

Ring the bells that still can ring ...

You can add up the parts
but you won't have the sum
You can strike up the march,
there is no drum
Every heart, every heart
to love will come
but like a refugee.

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in.

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in.
That's how the light gets in.
That's how the light gets in.

[ And to listen Lenoard Cohen sing his "Anthem" of hope, please click on the Web link immediately below, or cut & paste it into your Web browser and hit the ENTER key]:








The National Post, click Toronto Canada, click April 22 2014 (op-ed)


These days, drugs pretty much every story is really the same story:

  • In Galway, at the National University of Ireland, a speaker who attempts to argue against the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) programme against Israel is shouted down with cries of ‘Fucking Zionist, fucking pricks… Get the fuck off our campus.’
  • In California, Mozilla’s chief executive is forced to resign because he once made a political donation in support of the pre-revisionist definition of marriage.
  • At Westminster, the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee declares that the BBC should seek ‘special clearance’ before it interviews climate sceptics, such as fringe wacko extremists like former Chancellor Nigel Lawson.
  • In Massachusetts, Brandeis University withdraws its offer of an honorary degree to a black feminist atheist human rights campaigner from Somalia.
  • In London, a multitude of liberal journalists and artists responsible for everything from Monty Python to Downton Abbey sign an open letter in favour of the first state restraints on the British press in three and a quarter centuries.
  • And in Canberra the government is planning to repeal Section 18C — whoa, don’t worry, not all of it, just three or four adjectives; or maybe only two, or whatever it’s down to by now, after what Gay Alcorn in the Agedescribed as the ongoing debate about ‘where to strike the balance between free speech in a democracy and protection against racial abuse in a multicultural society’.

I heard a lot of that kind of talk during my battles with the Canadian ‘human rights’ commissions a few years ago: of course, we all believe in free speech, but it’s a question of how you ‘strike the balance’, where you ‘draw the line’… which all sounds terribly reasonable and Canadian, and apparently Australian, too. But in reality the point of free speech is for the stuff that’s over the line, and strikingly unbalanced. If free speech is only for polite persons of mild temperament within government-policed parameters, it isn’t free at all. So screw that.

But I don’t really think that many people these days are genuinely interested in ‘striking the balance’; they’ve drawn the line and they’re increasingly unashamed about which side of it they stand. What all the above stories have in common, whether nominally about Israel, gay marriage, climate change, Islam, or even freedom of the press, is that one side has cheerfully swapped that apocryphal Voltaire quote about disagreeing with what you say but defending to the death your right to say it for the pithier Ring Lardner line: ‘“Shut up,” he explained.’

A generation ago, progressive opinion at least felt obliged to pay lip service to the Voltaire shtick. These days, nobody’s asking you to defend yourself to the death: a mildly supportive retweet would do. But even that’s further than most of those in the academy, the arts, the media are prepared to go. As Erin Ching, a student at 60-grand-a-year Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania, put it in her college newspaper the other day: ‘What really bothered me is the whole idea that at a liberal arts college we need to be hearing a diversity of opinion.’ Yeah, who needs that? There speaks the voice of a generation: celebrate diversity by enforcing conformity.

The examples above are ever-shrinking Dantean circles of Tolerance: At Galway, the dissenting opinion was silenced by grunting thugs screaming four-letter words. At Mozilla, the chairwoman is far more housetrained: she issued a nice press release all about (per Miss Alcorn) striking a balance between freedom of speech and ‘equality’, and how the best way to ‘support’ a ‘culture’ of ‘diversity’ and ‘inclusiveness’ is by firing anyone who dissents from the mandatory groupthink. At the House of Commons they’re moving to the next stage: in an ‘inclusive culture’ ever more comfortable with narrower bounds of public discourse, it seems entirely natural that the next step should be for dissenting voices to require state permission to speak.

The more topics you rule out of discussion — immigration, Islam, ‘gender fluidity’ — the more you delegitimise the political system.

At Brandeis University, we are learning the hierarchy of the new multiculti caste system. In theory, Ayaan Hirsi Ali is everything the identity-group fetishists dig: female, atheist, black, immigrant. If conservative white males were to silence a secular women’s rights campaigner from Somalia, it would be proof of the Republican party’s ‘war on women’, or the encroaching Christian fundamentalist theocracy, or just plain old Andrew Boltian racism breaking free of its redoubt at the Herald Sun to rampage as far as the eye can see. But when the snivelling white male who purports to be president of Brandeis (one Frederick Lawrence) does it out of deference to Islam, Miss Hirsi Ali’s blackness washes off her like a bad dye job on a telly news anchor. White feminist Germaine Greer can speak at Brandeis because, in one of the more whimsical ideological evolutions even by dear old Germaine’s standards, Ms Greer feels that clitoridectomies add to the rich tapestry of ‘cultural identity’: ‘One man’s beautification is another man’s mutilation,’ as she puts it. But black feminist Hirsi Ali, who was on the receiving end of ‘one man’s mutilation’ and lives under death threats because she was boorish enough to complain about it, is too ‘hateful’ to be permitted to speak. In the internal contradictions of multiculturalism, Islam trumps all: race, gender, secularism, everything. So, in the interests of multiculti sensitivity, pampered upper-middle-class trusty-fundy children of entitlement are pronouncing a Somali refugee beyond the pale and signing up to Islamic strictures on the role of women.


That’s another reason why Gay Alcorn’s fretting over ‘striking the balance’ is so irrelevant. No matter where you strike it, the last unread nonagenarian white supremacist Xeroxing flyers in a shack off the Tanami Track will be way over the line, while, say, Sheikh Sharif Hussein’s lively sermon to an enthusiastic crowd at the Islamic Da’wah Centre of South Australia, calling on Allah to kill every last Buddhist and Hindu, will be safely inside it. One man’s decapitation is another man’s cultural validation, as Germaine would say.

Ms Greer has reached that Circle of Tolerance wherein the turkeys line up to volunteer for an early Eid. The Leveson Inquiry declaration of support signed by all those London luvvies like Emma Thompson, Tom Stoppard, Maggie Smith, Bob Geldof and Ian McKellen is the stage that comes after that House of Commons Science and Technology Committee — when the most creative spirits in our society all suddenly say: ‘Ooh, yes, please, state regulation, bring it on!’ Many of the eminent thespians who signed this letter started their careers in an era when every play performed in the West End had to be approved by the Queen’s Lord Chamberlain. Presented with a script that contained three ‘fucks’ and an explicit reference to anal sex, he’d inform the producer that he would be permitted two ‘crikeys’ and a hint of heavy petting. In 1968, he lost his censorship powers, and the previously banned Hair, of all anodyne trifles, could finally be seen on the London stage: this is the dawning of the age of Aquarius. Only four and a half decades after the censor’s departure, British liberals are panting for the reimposition of censorship under a new ‘Royal Charter’.

This is the aging of the dawn of Aquarius: new blasphemy laws for progressive pieties. In the New Statesman, Sarah Ditum seemed befuddled that the ‘No Platform’ movement — a vigorous effort to deny public platforms to the British National party and the English Defence League — has mysteriously advanced from silencing ‘violent fascists’ to silencing all kinds of other people, like aGuardian feminist who ventured some insufficiently affirming observations about trans-women and is now  unfit for polite society. But, once you get a taste for shutting people up, it’s hard to stop. Why bother winning the debate when it’s easier to close it down?

Nick Lowles defined the ‘No Platform’ philosophy as ‘the position where we refuse to allow fascists an opportunity to act like normal political parties’. But free speech is essential to a free society because, when you deny people ‘an opportunity to act like normal political parties’, there’s nothing left for them to do but punch your lights out. Free speech, wrote the Washington Post’s Robert Samuelson last week, ‘buttresses the political system’s legitimacy. It helps losers, in the struggle for public opinion and electoral success, to accept their fates. It helps keep them loyal to the system, even though it has disappointed them. They will accept the outcomes, because they believe they’ve had a fair opportunity to express and advance their views. There’s always the next election. Free speech underpins our larger concept of freedom.’

Just so. A fortnight ago I was in Quebec for a provincial election in which the ruling separatist party went down to its worst defeat in almost half a century. This was a democratic contest fought between parties that don’t even agree on what country they’re in. In Ottawa for most of the 1990s the leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition was a chap who barely acknowledged either the head of state or the state she’s head of. Which is as it should be. Because, if a Quebec separatist or an Australian republican can’t challenge the constitutional order through public advocacy, the only alternative is to put on a black ski-mask and skulk around after dark blowing stuff up.

Once you get a taste for shutting people up, it’s hard to stop.

I’m opposed to the notion of official ideology — not just fascism, Communism and Baathism, but the fluffier ones, too, like ‘multiculturalism’ and ‘climate change’ and ‘marriage equality’. Because the more topics you rule out of discussion — immigration, Islam, ‘gender fluidity’ — the more you delegitimise the political system. As your cynical political consultant sees it, a commitment to abolish Section 18C is more trouble than it’s worth: you’ll just spends weeks getting damned as cobwebbed racists seeking to impose a bigots’ charter when you could be moving the meter with swing voters by announcing a federal programmne of transgendered bathroom construction. But, beyond the shrunken horizons of spinmeisters, the inability to roll back something like 18C says something profound about where we’re headed: a world where real, primal, universal rights — like freedom of expression — come a distant second to the new tribalism of identity-group rights.

Oh, don’t worry. There’ll still be plenty of ‘offending, insulting or humiliating’ in such a world, as Ayaan Hirsi Ali and the Mozilla CEO and Zionists and climate deniers and feminist ‘cis-women’ not quite au courant with transphobia can all tell you. And then comes the final, eerie silence. Young Erin Ching at Swarthmore College has grasped the essential idea: it is not merely that, as the Big Climate enforcers say, ‘the science is settled’, but so is everything else, from abortion to gay marriage. So what’s to talk about? Universities are no longer institutions of inquiry but ‘safe spaces’ where delicate flowers of diversity of race, sex, orientation, ‘gender fluidity’ and everything else except diversity of thought have to be protected from exposure to any unsafe ideas.

As it happens, the biggest ‘safe space’ on the planet is the Muslim world. For a millennium, Islamic scholars have insisted, as firmly as a climate scientist or an American sophomore, that there’s nothing to debate. And what happened? As the United Nations Human Development Programme’s famous 2002 report blandly noted, more books are translated in Spain in a single year than have been translated into Arabic in the last 1,000 years. Free speech and a dynamic, innovative society are intimately connected: a culture that can’t bear a dissenting word on race or religion or gender fluidity or carbon offsets is a society that will cease to innovate, and then stagnate, and then decline, very fast.

As American universities, British playwrights and Australian judges once understood, the ‘safe space’ is where cultures go to die"....

[This article originally appeared in “The Spectator”. Mark Steyn is a commentator and author of several books, including “America Alone: The End of the World As We Know It”, a New York Times bestseller. You can follow Mark’s defence of free speech at www.steynonline.com and on Twitter at @MarkSteynOnline]


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